David Mitchell, ca 1881, a founding member of Glebe Masonic Lodge 1944
David Mitchell, ca 1881, a founding member of Glebe Masonic Lodge 1944

At the time of its demolition in 1911 Jarocin Hall at 92 Pyrmont Bridge Road had been operating as a boarding house for about a decade.  A year later the site was covered by new houses erected by speculative builder C W Coulton, and the name Jarocin Avenue was the only evidence of the mansion that once graced the area.

Built in 1857 on a 1.5 acre block adjoining the grounds of Forest Lodge House, the house was called Kayuga by its second owner, Donald Macintyre, after his Hunter Valley pastoral property.  Third owner David Mitchell renamed it Jarocin after his birthplace in Prussia.  David and his brother Philip (sons of Falk and Mina Minchel/Mitchell) were amongst the many Jews who migrated from Jarocin and surrounding villages to the USA, England and Australia in the mid-nineteenth century.  By 1910 the proportion of Jarocin’s Jewish population had fallen to 3.2 per cent compared with 34.5 per cent in 1800.  The few remaining were expelled by Nazi forces in 1939 and by 1944 Jarocin’s Jewish cemetery had been destroyed.

Jarocin today (population 27,000) is in Poland.  It is famous as the birthplace of singer Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and as the venue of a rock music festival staged annually since 1980.

Whether escaping German harassment or in search of a better life, David Mitchell travelled to England, probably via Hamburg, and anglicised his name.  He sailed steerage class from The Downs on the small vessel St George on 2 August 1851, landing in Port Jackson on 9 December. On 25 January 1854 in the Macquarie Street synagogue he was married by Jacob Isaacs to Julia Davis (ca 1835-1906).  Their first child was born the same year.

Julia was the third daughter of Mark and Phoebe Davis.  Davis and Mitchell family members were strong observers of the Jewish faith and many are buried in the Hebrew section of Rookwood cemetery.  Following the death in 1913 of Julia’s brother Isaac, a well-to-do jeweller, prayer services (minyanim) were held over two nights at his home, 70 Wigram Road.

David Mitchell set up residence at 229 Castlereagh Street and a watchmaking/ jewellery business, Mitchell & Co, at 247 Pitt Street.  In 1855 his ‘Hindustanee’ assistant Achbar, in his employ for less than a fortnight, was charged with stealing a watch key and gold earrings, studs and rings – one of which he was wearing.  Called to the shop, Constable Burke noted that Achbar swallowed something while being questioned.  During 1860, the year he was naturalised, Mitchell gained a publican’s licence and moved to Ipswich where he ran the Clarendon Hotel (he charged a lodger with stealing his brush and comb).  He then switched to wholesaling and prospered, despite a string of insolvent debtors.

By 1868 Mitchell had sold up in Queensland and returned to Sydney where he bought Josiah Harpur’s wholesale grocery and wine and spirit business at 426 George Street.  D Mitchell & Co relocated to the corner of Wynyard and York Streets, and later to 153 Clarence Street.  The firm stocked everything from ox tongues to canary seed, Epsom salts, knife polish, anchovy and bloater paste, axle grease, lemon peel and tartaric acid.

As the business expanded so did the family.  Like many Victorian wives Julia’s married life was one of perpetual pregnancy during her childbearing years.  She had at least 16 children:

Phoebe (1854-1919), Julian (185664), John (1857-63), Phillip Charles (1859-1928), Minna (1860-1941), Mark (1861-1922), Fanny (born 1863), Coleman Falk (born 1865), Isadore (1867-1932), Alfred (1868-1932), Esther (1870-1936), Julia (born 1871), Millicent (born 1873), Sydney Joseph (1875-1959), Amelia (1877-1956) and a boy who died at birth in 1864.

In the early 1870s the Mitchells moved from the city to Glebe.  They rented Lynwood, 22 Ferry Road, recently vacated by George Wigram Allen, and in 1876 bought ten-bedroom Jarocin. Here they kept a cow and poultry and filled the house with ‘elegant and valuable high-art furniture’: an Erard grand piano bought for 160 guineas, a Lipp & Sohn ebony grand piano, two walnut pianos by Erard and by Broadwood, a ‘massive mahogany billiard table’ by Wright & Co, sideboards, bookcases and bedsteads made from walnut, mahogany and cedar, loo and card tables, statuary, candelabra, works of art, articles de vertu, and crockery – a French hand-painted china dinner service, a breakfast and tea service, and tête à tête and afternoon services.  Julia had help in her Glebe homes.  At various times she advertised for a plain needlework person, laundress, nurse girl, dressmaker, cook, and parlour maid.

Jarocin was the setting in 1881 for the society wedding of daughter Minna to Joseph Samuel of Brisbane, son of Hyam Samuel of Chelsea, in a ceremony performed by Alexander Barnard Davis, later first chief rabbi of Sydney’s Great Synagogue.  In 1887 Eglinton was the venue for the marriage of son Mark to Elizabeth Myers.  (Eldest daughter Phoebe Rogalsky was at that time living in Calmar Cottage, Glebe Road, before moving to 21 Hereford Street.)

David Mitchell expanded his property interests: in the 1880s he was landlord of Mitchell Terrace 84-90 Pyrmont Bridge Road.  He was also active in non-business affairs.  In 1878 he was appointed a Glebe magistrate.  In 1881 he joined a committee formed to oppose pogroms in Russia where Jews were accused of the murder of Tsar Alexander 11.  He was a founding member of the David Mitchell, ca 1881, a founding member of Glebe Masonic Lodge 1944 Glebe Masonic Lodge, and Treasurer of the Sir Moses Montefiore Jewish Home Appeal.  A JP, he stood for local government office – ‘Study your own interests and the interests of the ward, and VOTE FOR David Mitchell who will do his best to serve you’ – and served as a Forest Lodge alderman 1884-6.  His sons Alfred and Coleman Falk sang and played in fundraising concerts for Prince Alfred Hospital.  No doubt Mitchell’s wife and daughters were among the Jewish Guild ladies who visited the wards.  Mitchell & Co made regular cash donations to the hospital fund.

In 1882, while Mitchell was absent on a business trip to England and the USA, the company’s four-storey warehouse in Clarence Street burned down in a spectacular blaze ignited by explosions of kerosene spreading from the area storing matches, broom handles and tea.

Molten lead and melted wax cascaded over the insurance and volunteer fire brigades, while larrikins gathered in a vain attempt to separate champagne and whisky from the sperm oil and treacle flowing in the gutters.  Insurance covered most of the £20,000 loss but early the next year Mitchell, stating that he was moving to Manly, listed ‘the whole of his valuable household furniture &c’ for auction by Louis Cohen.  There is no evidence that Mitchell went to Manly; it may have been a face-saving reason for needing cash.

In 1888 Mitchell decided to emigrate, again put up Jarocin’s furniture and effects for auction, and was given a series of farewells.  Sixty businessmen entertained him with a harbour cruise and lunch at Chowder Bay.  Glebe Masonic Lodge 1944 EC organised a special tram to take 100 guests to a garden party for Brother Mitchell in the Sir Joseph Banks Pavilion at Botany where they played cricket and danced to music played by the Young Australian Band.  Master of the Lodge, galvanised iron manufacturer Martin Zollner (Mitchell’s neighbour at 88 Pyrmont Bridge Road), toasted the Queen and the Prince of Wales, and George Munro (of Arden, 2 Forsythe Street) presented the guest of honour with a leather-bound Masonic book.

On 29 March 1888 Julia and David Mitchell with five of their daughters and two sons sailed to London on BMS Parramatta.  Wealthy tobacco manufacturer Hugh Dixson was a fellow passenger.  Jarocin was immediately put up for rental or sale.  ‘Healthily situated within walking distance of the city’, it then comprised drawing, dining and breakfast rooms, six large bedrooms, two bathrooms, billiard and school rooms, pantry, kitchen, scullery, larder, servants’ rooms, laundry, storerooms, wine cellars, stables, coach-house and outoffices.  Gas and hot water were connected and the grounds ‘beautifully laid out’.  (By 1904 the grounds included tennis courts.)  The property was finally bought in 1890 by architect Archibald McNeill.

David Mitchell died in London on 13 February 1892, having set up a network of international business contacts.  His widow died in London on 8 June 1906.  Their sons carried on the family business.  Phillip was head of operations in Sydney, Isadore in charge of customs and shipping, Coleman in control in London, while Sydney Joseph headed the Newcastle directorate.  Solicitors Mark and Alfred looked after the firm’s legal interests.  By the time of World War I the Sydney premises incorporated a general office in Clarence Street, a tea store and general bulk store in Kent Street, and a factory in Forbes Street East Sydney manufacturing the company’s own brands, including Good Shot Baking Powder and Mitchell Maid custard powder, soup, jelly crystals and rolled oats.  There were also offices in London and Newcastle, agencies in all Australian States plus New York, San Francisco, Ceylon and India.  D Mitchell & Co, a limited liability company from 1899, merged with David Cohen and others to form Grocery & General Merchants Ltd in 1949.